The older generation in Toledo remember the days when the only way to Belize City was by the coastal ferry which kept the deep south in touch with the outside world. Later the James Bus took eight to twelve hours to bump its way over one hundred and eighty miles of mainly dirt road. When the paving of the Southern Highway was completed in 2009 the last piece was in place. Toledo was finally “part of the rest of Belize” with modern infrastructure and quick and easy access (3.5 hours from Belize city) on some of the best and quietest roads in the country. And these days ten flights a day bring other visitors to Toledo.
Toledo is Caribbean on the coast and Central American inland. The coastal communities from Barranco in the south to Punta Gorda, Punta Negra and Monkey River Town in the north are either Garifuna or mixed communities with Creole, Hispanic, East Indian and other races. The Garifuna village of Barranco has its own thatched temple (dabuyeba) and the village museum tells the story of the Garifuna in Belize. Inland there are around sixty villages of Mopan and Kek’chi Maya whose civilization dominated this part of Central America until the arrival of the conquistadores.
The rivers Sarstoon in the south, Temash, Moho, Rio Grande, Golden Stream, Deep River and Monkey River all flow from the Maya mountains eastwards into the warm shallow waters of the Gulf of Honduras and towards the Sapodilla Cayes at the southern tip of the Belize barrier reef about thirty-five miles off shore. The Maya mountains are karst limestone with a multitude of caves and underground water systems carrying streams like the Rio Blanco that swirls down into a sink-hole and re-emerges three miles south at Blue Creek (Hokeb Ha) Cave with a new name and colour. Having reached the broad flat coastal plain the rivers, home to important breeding populations of the endangered American Crocodile, meander through the lowland rainforest, itself home to troupes of Black Howler Monkeys and a myriad of exotic tropical birds. Only in March 2011 Wilfred Mutrie, Lee Jones and others positively identified a number of Great Potoo on the Rio Grande just north of Punta Gorda and thus added one more species to Belize’s list of around 575 different birds.
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